As I mentioned in my last post, this is the first play I’ve read since starting In my good books… in fact, I think it’s probably the first play I’ve read since I finished university some five years ago. It was my participation in the Back to the Classics Challenge which prompted the choice of a play as it is one of the categories. I chose Oscar Wilde having studied The Importance of Being Earnest several years ago. I remembered enjoying Wilde’s irreverent turns of phrase and comic lines. An Ideal Husband did not disappoint, just like The Importance of Being Earnest, it is filled with Wilde’s irrepressible wit and humour.
An Ideal Husband takes place amongst the upper echelons of British society and features Lords, Ladies and more than a few gentlemen. It features the obligatory rich fop, in this case Lord Goring, who gets some of the play’s best lines. Take, for example, his exclamation, “I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.” and, “I adore political parties. They are the only place left where people don’t talk politics.” Indeed, it is Wilde’s particular talent for turning a witty line that attracted me to the play in the first place. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t read it yet, but suffice to say that An Ideal Husband features a healthy supply of scandal, mystery, intrigue and romance.
I usually tend to shy away from reading plays on the basis that I feel they are best encountered on the stage and not on the page. Whilst Wilde’s plays, for me, anyway, spring off the page a little more readily than others, I still feel that something of a play is lost when one merely reads it. Much in the same way that one wouldn’t publish volumes of song lyrics to be read without the accompanying music, I think plays lose something of their energy and dynamic when they are only read. I’d like, for example, to witness the facial expressions of Mabel and Lord Goring as they spar with one another…I’d like to witness the way Mrs Cheveley moves about Lord Goring’s study when she is unobserved by others…it is these things which the brain has to supply when reading a play and, thus, we determine them and not the author.
An Ideal Husband is a play that deals with secrets, marriage, courtship, the relationship between parent and child and the potency of speaking the truth. As Lord Goring observes, “In fact, I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.” This, I think, is the key to understanding Wilde’s humour, hardly any of his characters say what they really think and even fewer seem to think about what they’re really saying. An Ideal Husband is a play about understanding people, what drives and restrains them and their ability to self-regulate. As for truth, the play’s central theme, Wilde portrays it as something of a fluid entity. Some of his characters most sincere lines seem, to me, to be spoken in jest, and the only real truth you learn is that sometimes the truth is the hardest thing to hear.
I enjoyed reading An Ideal Husband the pace of the plot and lines is good, never stagnating or dragging its heels. The wit is thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining and the storyline is intriguing. I’d like to see the play performed, to see what it adds to the words. As a reader, I come away convinced that Wilde was an insatiable optimist… “Indeed I am not sure I know what pessimism really means.”…and so, you finish reading with a real feeling of optimism and a certain buoyancy.
I move onto another classic, this time F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.